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Nukes & Plants – Protecting and Safe Keeping

By Sabena Siddiqui –

Nuclear safety requires that security, safeguards and safety are interlinked, safety keeps check on unintended conditions or events that could cause radiological releases from authorised activities. Nuclear weapon security is usually handled by different agencies from those that manage civilian safety mainly to maintain secrecy. The ultimate security threat is from terrorist groups.

Nuclear security includes nuclear power plants, nuclear facilities and transportation of nuclear materials, their use and storage. Nuclear safety would also include classified information, designs and drawings of nuclear weapons.

Eight countries are declared nuclear powers in the world; of these five have signed the Non Proliferation treaty. These countries are the US , UK , Russia , France and China , non signatories are Pakistan, India and North Korea .

It would not be wrong to say that the US has the longest track record of security lapses and troubles in its nuclear forces. There have been key missteps by personnel who handle the world’s most deadly weapons. 19 missile crew members in the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D. were taken off duty. The 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., failed a safety and security inspection, the officer in charge was taken off duty.

The Air Force punished officers twice for opening the blast door of their launch control centre, a violation of rules. Court-martial rates in the nuclear missile force in 2011 and 2012 were more than twice as high as in the overall Air Force. The Air Force removed Maj. Gen. Michael Carey from 20th Air Force command, which is responsible for the entire Minuteman 3 missile force. 34 nuclear missile launch officers were involved in a cheating scandal and stripped of certification, largest such breach of integrity in the nuclear force. Nine midlevel nuclear commanders were fired and a colonel resigned. Cheating in the monthly test on operating missiles began as early as November 2011 and continued until November 2013.

On 29 August 2007 US airmen accidentally attached six nuclear warheads to their plane, mistaking them for unarmed cruise missiles intended for a weapons graveyard. They were then flown across the US and remained lost for 36 hours. US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered immediate actions for full review of the nuclear force this year , U.S. nuclear security record often reports security lapses in custody of nuclear weapons themselves. It is truly incomprehensible how US nuclear arrangements can be considered safe .

Classified design drawings used for manufacturing nuclear weapons have not been efficiently maintained by nuclear weapons labs under the NNSA as disclosed in a report by the US Department of Energy. Nuclear weapons information has not been maintained as a priority and this could have significant effects on safety and surveillance. The National Nuclear Security Administration seems to be in a crisis.

India’s nuclear safety controls are “fraught with grave risks”, says an Indian parliamentary committee report. The nuclear regulatory authority is weak, under-resourced and “slow in adopting international benchmarks and good practices in the areas of nuclear and radiation operation.” The overall performance is dismal, slow to adopt international standards for nuclear safety and have not accepted the need for a peer review by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The AERB, which supervises safety issues at India’s 22 running nuclear plants, has no power to make rules, enforce compliance or impose penalty in cases of nuclear safety oversight. It can impose a fine of maximum Rs. 500 as a deterrent. It has no direct role in radiological surveillance of nuclear power plants to ensure the safety of workers or in emergency-preparedness. It has no formal safety policy and dozens of safety manuals it was supposed to prepare in 1983 are not complete. In these conditions a Fukushima or Chernobyl-like disaster is feared if the nuclear safety issue is not addressed by the Indian government. A serious lapse in safety could slow the growth of nuclear power in India, the radiation poisoning caused by Cobalt 60 at Mayapuri in New Delhi is just one incident.

M V Ramana in his book The Power of Promise: Examining Nuclear Energy in India says that some nuclear projects in India have come close to ”disaster.” ….The fact that there is no clear record on accidents or potential disasters at India’s nuclear power plants raises important questions about the transparency of information on the issue.

The IAEA stresses the need for independence for regulatory bodies such as those in Australia, Canada, France, Pakistan and the US . India needs to bring its nuclear control agency AERB on par with those of other nuclear powers in order to lessen its nuclear safety risks.

In contrast the odds of security breakdowns in Pakistan are very low if the current realities of security are assessed. Pakistani military strategy is to deny outsiders opportunities to gain illicit access to nuclear weapons. Materials processing and weapons production facilities are at sites under strict government control, nuclear material is stored apart from the weapons themselves. Warheads are stored separately from delivery systems, equipped with permissive action links (PALs), which require the entry of a code in the lock device before the weapon can explode. There is a two-man rule to authenticate the codes that call for the release of the weapons. These authentication processes are standard in advanced nuclear-weapon states. Strict secrecy is maintained about the location of storage sites and transportation and deployment of weapons is clandestine, not in convoys that have visible security.

There is less visible sign of movement and theft or attack chances are greatly reduced in transit, which is usually the most vulnerable area. The nuclear control authority NCA has three-tiers, Employment Control Committee and Developmental Control Committee, constituting one tier, Strategic Plans Division (SPD) another tier and the three services’ strategic forces the final tier. The IAEA chief expressed confidence in the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear assets while visiting the Chashma nuclear plant in March this year.

Pakistan’s civil nuclear program is run under the rules and regulations of IAEA. Pakistan did more since 2012 to increase protection of its atomic-bomb fuel than any other nuclear-armed country, a US study released this year on worldwide nuclear material security described Pakistan as the ’most improved’ country among nine nuclear-armed states, securing its nuclear materials much better than India. Then there is the Nuclear Security Action Plan prepared by Pakistan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority. PNRA is Pakistan’s nuclear watchdog working in collaboration with the International Atomic Energy Agency. IAEA has declared NSAP a model for other nations.

Pakistan has also established a Centre of Excellence offering intense specialized courses in nuclear security, physical protection and personnel reliability. ’We are ready to share our best practices and training facilities with other interested states in the region and beyond.’ said Pakistani Prime Minister at the Nuclear Security Summit at the Hague.

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